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Avoiding Big Problems with Big Data

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It seems like everywhere you look someone is touting the promise of Big Data. The ability to access, capture and manipulate huge stores of information has given rise to metaphorical rhetoric and hype. Big Data is being peddled as the new Oil, the new Sugar, new Plastic, new Gold or Currency, the new Soil, the new Intel Inside, the new Black, or even a new Frontier or Battleground.  However, no matter who is talking about it, or how they’re describing it, everyone is looking to Big Data for a new Competitive Edge.

On a long flight home from my recent vacation, I watched a few films, including part of the intriguing National Geographic documentary Brain Games: Pay Attention! The film covered the limits of human attention, and I was particularly intrigued the explanation of the now classic Gorilla in the room experiment, illustrating how we focus perception so tightly to achieve productivity that our greater awareness suffers tremendously. The implications are important, since we make decisions constantly based on what we (think we) know, often missing gorillas, or maybe even an elephant in the room. Gaining access to Big Data might be a challenge, but using data effectively is often a bigger problem.

We all know that our expanding Digital World is inundating us with messages through every media type and across multiple channels therein. However, what we fail to realize is that we are limited in our ability to perceive and rationally process this flood of information. This is a multifaceted problem, both for our businesses and for our prospects, customers, and social community. While certain aspects of this problem can offer companies opportunities to differentiate and grow through delivery of exceptional customer experience, often we see businesses struggle to track and analyze performance. At G5 we hear it all the time: “Help us get the data we need, and to use our data more effectively.”

Why is it so hard to get a handle on these data challenges? It can be very frustrating to intuitively understand the broad requirements of implementing a customer-centric program that requires a data-focused approach, while not being able to pinpoint and address inherent challenges. For comprehensive experience programs, no two companies are exactly alike, but every company struggles to align around new vision, reprioritize goals, change long-standing practices and policies, adapt fundamental new technologies, and overcome biases. Alternatively, some attempts at customer data projects lack sufficient scope, vertical integration, or analytic capabilities, limiting usefulness and/or falling short of business transformation.

There is little secret to the recipe for success: data-focused projects should start with clarity around objectives, have requirements meticulously reviewed, and be implemented with input and transparency across the organization. Simple yes, but the devil remains in the details. Which data do I need? How should data be processed and stored? How will data and insights be reported and made actionable? With a nearly endless set of data choices, no wonder such projects generate frustration. It’s not much solace that you are not alone in this problem.

Business data for tracking economic production and customer accounts is likely the earliest origin of efforts to collect and store data, with examples of clay markers and tablets demarking the beginning of the human historic period. In the course of the last 6,000 years or so we have seen production and acceleration of data reach unimagined levels, where 90% of all information has been produced in the last 2 years. The volume, velocity and complexity of Big Data is a fundamental challenge, certainly not to be underestimated, but definitely appreciated for the possibilities of a more perfect era.

Effective experience management requires an extraordinary amount of data, and this is seen quite clearly in today’s transformation of Customer Relationship Management applications. We want to manage relationships through experiences in order to meet business goals in a social world -  i.e. cultivating customer advocates to advance our brands. Such emotionally connected relationships grow from exceptional experiences, delivered authentically and consistently, and enabled by a complete view of your customer. Embrace big data to track your customer interactions, obtain useful information at every touchpoint, analyze the outcomes of your efforts, and to gain insights that drive optimization.

To master the art of Big Data insights, it is not only helpful to learn current best practices, but to understand at a deeper level what it means to collect and use data.  In the tradition of fishing lessons versus fish handouts, we’ll post additional blog entries on this topic, diving more deeply into different aspects of the Big Data challenge. Look for upcoming posts on Data Acquisition, Processing, Interpretation and Actionability. Armed with the right understanding, you’ll spend less time thinking about data problems, and more time exploiting data opportunities.

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